AFLW senior coach Trent Cooper has praised the underrated efforts of both Mim Strom and Ebony Antonio, saying they went above and beyond as team players in 2020.
Fremantle may have finished the season unbeaten, but it didn’t start smoothly after losing two key players early in the year.
Freo’s ruck depth was a concern heading into the season and the situation got even worse when new Irish recruit Aine Tighe went down with a knee injury in a pre-season game against Adelaide.
Then early in the first quarter of round one against Geelong, winger Stephanie Cain also succumbed to an ACL injury.
As a result, Fremantle were forced to rely on the 18-year-old Strom to shoulder the ruck load while the versatile Antonio was once again asked to take on a new role.
Cooper said he never intended to see Strom play every game this season.
“How Mim didn’t make the 22under22 squad was very bemusing. She finished fourth in hitouts in the competition and had the third-most possessions of any ruck. She was amazing,” Cooper said.
“Mim was meant to be an understudy to Aine Tighe, one of our Irish players we had really high hopes for, but Aine went down with an ACL in the pre-season, Mim was it.
“She was the only available ruck on our list and she was only 17 when we drafted her, so for her to do what she did was amazing.
“She worked really closely with Aaron Sandilands once a week and she’s just come on.
“We initially hoped she would maybe play maybe a couple games for us this year. She’ll get better for having that year this year and she’s going to be a really good player for us for a long time.”
While Antonio has been recognised for her efforts in 2020 with selection in the All Australian squad, Cooper said her efforts on the wing have been largely unrecognised.
Initially a defender, Cooper swung Antonio forward for most of 2019, but when Cain went down he had another role in mind .
“Poor Ebony gets moved where we need her, not necessarily where’s best for her,” Cooper said.
“We moved her forward and she showed glimpses there and did some really good things.
“She’s a great team player but this year, we had a deep enough forward line that we didn’t need her as much up front.
“When we lost Steph Cain, who I rate as one of the best wings in the competition, I thought we needed more drive on the wing.
“It was important because of the way we played this year, moving the ball wider, using our wings more.
“We thought we would have a lot more confidence coming out of our backline to do that if Ebony was on one of the wings.
“That transformed the way we scored in the second half of the year and she also hit the scoreboard with some of the goals of the year as well.”